Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with our selections for 2015.
While carrying a pack is standard operating procedure for trail runners and ultrarunners, who need to stow water, nutrition, a lightweight jacket and first aid, most casual runners find the practice cumbersome. They weren’t wrong, back when the only choices were scaled-down backpacks that chafed and bounced. But the options for hydration packs have become so good and so diverse in the last decade that we find ourselves wearing them for even a quick five-miler when all we need to stash are keys and a phone. These six are among the best on the market, each with unique features that set them apart from the field.
Ultra Spire Zygos
Best All-Around Pack: For a versatile pack that shines in every situation, the Ultra Spire Zygos seem to be a cut above the rest. Designed more akin to a vest, the multi-purpose adventure pack provides a form-hugging fit with the Max O2 Sternum system that doesn’t lose tension due to movement or over time. The system’s simple hook design is also easy to use with or without gloves. So if you’re at altitude and don’t want to freeze your digits or if you’re just too damn tired after a long day’s run, you won’t be fighting for freedom. The 2-liter reservoir is also easy to access, refill and store for quick stops at stations along the route.
Best Training Vest: When running marathons, minimal baggage is best, but on training days you’ll still need your essentials: cell phone, energy gels, water bottles. What doesn’t change between race day and training day, though, is the sweating. The CamelBak Marathoner has air mesh panels to keep things light and breathable along with a sweat proof compartment for the aforementioned essentials when perspiration gets out of hand. And as the 2-liter reservoir empties and the load gets lighter, the drawstring pockets and adjustable harness can be cinched down to eliminate bouncing.
Osprey Syncro 10
Best Pack for Day Hikes: As avid fans of day hikes, we are firm believers in bringing along exactly what you need and nothing you don’t. The Osprey Syncro 10 isn’t the largest of the line, but it’s not the smallest either. The Syncro 10 is the middle-of-the-road option, which makes it perfect for hauling just the right amount of gear, food and water for a day hike. When the heat turns up, the reservoir holds 2.5 liters of water and the AirSpeed ventilated back panel creates optimal breathability on those daylong adventures.
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20
Best Overnight Adventure Pack: When it comes to a weekend hike, no one wants to be nagged or irritated by a pack (or person for that matter). The Fastpack 20 features a unique InfiKnit construction with a back panel and shoulder straps that are made from one piece of custom-made fabric, eliminating contact with all seams, and just behind the back panel is an easily accessed pouch for different-sized reservoirs. The stretch pockets on the side and rear give perfect access to food, maps or anything else you need in a pinch, while the main compartment, with a waterproof roll-top, protects the gear you’ll need later. Daisy chains with trekking pole and ice axe loops are a nice finishing touch.
Salomon Energy Belt
Best Waist Pack: For trail running, where agility comes in to play, a low center of gravity is key. Salomon’s Energy Belt sits low and doesn’t encumber your upper body movements like a conventional backpack would. The compact and lightweight waist pack comes with two 200ml water bottles and a center pocket sizable enough for a quick run‘s essentials. Inclined at 45 degrees, the 4D bottle holder makes it easier to grab water on the go and focus on the trail ahead.
Best Tactical Pack: The Geiggerrig Guardian’s low-profile design makes it one of the most compact and efficient hydration packs on the market. Geiggerrig’s pressurized Hydration Engine is a no-nonsense water provider: hydrate yourself, cool off or use it to clean off. Impact-resistant Guardian plates keep the profile low, which means less pressure is needed to spray water at a higher velocity.
Additional contribution by Bryan Campbell